A Dwelling of No Significance

sharing our heritage from Bruce Castle Museum Archive

This project was exhibited at Bruce Castle Museum, and as part of their wonderful lockdown email series, they very kindly invited me to revisit this house. So, in the words of the Museum, come along “and travel back in time, peeling away the layers of history, researching, documenting, recording and sharing an extraordinary portrait of what might have seemed an everyday house, hidden away in Wood Green.”

 ‘A Dwelling of No Significance’This phrase sealed the fate of No.24 Truro Road, Wood Green. Officially uninhabited for almost a decade, the building was considered to be of no significance as described by planners in Haringey Council. A house with no history. It could be demolished.

I disagreed. The dilapidated building had been my neighbour for thirteen years. No longer a home, the property opened up as it decayed and shared a record of domestic life spanning the whole of the twentieth century.

home life : a snippet of cine film found under a floorboard

The house was tucked away at the end of a long driveway on a large plot between two roads, completely obscured from prying eyes by a vast willow tree. Following a huge fire in the adjacent builders yard, the property was abandoned and sold to a developer. The garden became overgrown and wildlife increased. People began to use the house as a free material source, and tiles and pipes and floorboards began to disappear. The local children used it as their own playground, and the sound of shattering glass continued until there were no windows left to smash.  Squatters came and tamed the garden (and the children) and they grew vegetables and raised pigs, and were in turn evicted *.

The garden rewilded. Rumours spread of it having changed hands again.

pinhole camera photograph: view from my garden of No.24

Climbing over my back wall, with a homemade pinhole camera wrapped in a black bin bag, I started exploring and recording the property. My process was one of trial and error, with many opportunities for things to go wrong. The camera was a hatbox, and the photographic paper I placed inside was old stock, which didn’t always react. My exposures could be up to an hour long, depending on the light conditions and the behaviour of the paper. I was using out of date paper as I wanted the images to look and feel as though they had been found in the house, and to capture the change of light as real time passed.

I picked at the many layers of wallpaper as the damp caused them to unpeel, and scavenged remnants of the house to include, reused, in layered kiln-formed glass.

self portrait in the ruined house

The glass was recycled from the broken windows and greenhouse. Using textured plaster moulds, I formed layered and spaced glass memories. Some had an image transferred on, either a photograph or a detail from a census, and in the formed spaces I placed objects and scraps from the house.

wallpaper samples from the house

Each individual piece was a fragment of history. Put together, splintered stories of this house and it occupants could be traced.

kiln formed glass, fragmented memories

The blank spaces that appear in a fading memory are all too present in the history of this house, and correspond to the blank spaces within the glass pieces. These voids are waiting for recall, for the information to come to light that completes the story of this house with no history.

One day someone ripped out all the copper pipes and there was a fountain bursting up through the gaping living room floor. It became increasingly dangerous to flipflop around the house and after finding half the staircase smashed, I knew that I would soon have to leave the physical house alone.

interior and wallpaper layers

Turning to the local archives of Bruce Castle Museum I began to construct a factual history alongside my imaginings.

Using the information I gathered, and a lot of hunches, I tracked down the family who last lived in the house. Attached to the front porch of the building had always been a homemade sign – The Swifts. This wasn’t the house name as I had expected, but the family name. They were surprised at my interest, and a little suspicious. However, they kindly allowed me to visit, and Mr Swift shared his memories. He talked not just about the house, but about his life, for the two were so entwined.

pinhole photograph from homemade camera

Leonard Swift was born in the house on 11th July 1911. It was his home for eighty-seven years.

From the collections of Bruce Castle Museum (Haringey Archive and Museum Service).
Truro Road – a century apart

Built in 1860, the house was possibly intended to be two cottages, for the end wall to the north had the staggered bricks and internal fireplace of a never completed project. It is possible this was because the Finsbury Freehold Land Society acquired additional land and the terrace of Sidney Road was built instead.

Originally known as Blenheim Cottage, it became home to a florist and gardener, who worked the large plot as a nursery. The produce from this garden continued to feed the family for many years and even earned them extra sugar rations during wartime for jam making and preserving.

Detail of OS map. From the collections of Bruce Castle Museum (Haringey Archive and Museum Service).
Detail of OS map. From the collections of Bruce Castle Museum (Haringey Archive and Museum Service).

The Swifts first came to the property in 1900 to rent the large outbuildings for their thriving business, Edward Swift & Sons, Microscope Objective Makers. As soon as the cottage was available, the family moved in. The four Swift sons – no longer the ‘terror of the neighbourhood’ as the young Len recounted in his stories, but busy making microscope objectives (these are the brass tubes with the lenses inside). They worked both the brass and the lenses, with Leonard’s father, Herbert, cold working the glass lenses to within a thousandth of an inch, tiring and precise work. Their cousins, James Swift & Sons of Tottenham Court Road, made the actual microscopes. In 1901 Captain Scott was supplied with Swift Microscopes for use on the Discovery.

During the First World War, the forty-foot shed was full of busy lathes constantly working, and many staff. Leonard always thought he would take over the family business, and spent all the time he could at Herbert’s side, learning. Sadly, by the mid-1920s, there was no demand.

pinhole photograph, long exposure

The cottage had three rooms downstairs, and three rooms upstairs. The Swift family – Catherine, Herbert, Leonard and his brother – shared the property with lodgers, as the Objectives business became less profitable. The business ceased to be with the death of Herbert in 1932.

When war came again in 1939, Leonard joined the Air Force as a ground gunner and was posted overseas until August 1943, when he landed in Liverpool to begin a long and dodgy journey back to London. All the underground stations were crowded with sleeping families and everywhere was pitch black. As he finally reached Wood Green, the air raid siren was going, and he couldn’t get into the house as most of the rooms were let out and he didn’t have the right keys. He thought everyone must be down the underground shelter, so dumped his kit bags and went round to the police station on the corner of Nightingale Road and asked if he could sleep in a cell. At first they said no, but Leonard said “Why not? It’s got a bed hasn’t it?” So they gave him a cup of tea, and let him stay. In the morning he went home again, only to make the shocking discovery that his mother had been buried on the very day he landed in Liverpool.

After a month’s leave, Leonard was reposted to Hillingdon to work in the operations room. Here he met Margaret as they worked together, plotting the flight information. They were married in 1945 and settled down together at No.24. Leonard returned to work in Covent Garden.

Detail of OS map 1956. From the collections of Bruce Castle Museum (Haringey Archive and Museum Service)

The house had always been rented accommodation, with rent being about ‘thirty bob or something a quarter’. But in 1956 a couple of men turned up to look at the house, as it was being auctioned the very next day. Margaret found out where the auction was to be, and that they needed a 5% deposit. They didn’t have any money, but borrowed what they could from their neighbours.

Armed with £30, Leonard went off to Piccadilly for the auction. “We had decided we couldn’t go more than £500 for the house. There were all these people who wanted to buy it, plus there were families there who were in tears as their houses were being sold from under them and they couldn’t afford the money. So at the auction, I’m surrounded by all these big blokes bidding, £300… £400…£500… I thought what am I going to do? I haven’t got enough but we can’t lose our home. Then a bloke said £600 and I said ‘And five’ and he said ‘oh let him have it ‘.

Now it turned out that the deposit was 10%, not 5% as Leonard had thought, and he only had a matter of hours to find the other £30. Once again, friends rallied round to stop them losing their home, and his boss agreed to lend them the rest as a mortgage for two years, at two and a half percent.

Once the family owned the house, and had paid back the money, they added gas and electricity. The landlords had never wanted the expense of running power all the way from the road up the long drive, so it had been oil for lamps and coal for cooking and heat. In 1966 he was given a grant to add a bathroom block instead of the old outside brick toilet.

Over the years they made many improvements and alterations to the house. It was Leonard’s son who built the porch and added The Swifts sign.

Copper print from the collection of Bruce Castle Museum (Haringey Archive and Museum Service).

If it were not for the fire, the Swifts might never have moved. Admittedly, the garden and the house were really becoming too much upkeep, but it was home. That night though, “I was asleep when I felt Margaret urgently trying to wake me, but when I sat up, Margaret was still fast asleep! I’ve always thought it must have been my mother, come back to warn us. The heat coming through the window was unbelievable.” After that, the Swifts decided to move, and left Truro Road for the last time on 28th July 1998.

I wish I’d gone up the long drive when the Swifts lived there. I sometimes saw a man and woman getting into their car at the distant end of their drive. I could never think of what to say – what reason could I have for going and opening their gate and letting myself into their secret garden? It was intriguing, a magical space that I wanted to know, whilst at the same time recognising that it was totally private, and that my nosiness would not be welcome.

My other neighbours didn’t share my obsession with No.24. They described the family as one that ‘kept to themselves’, but maybe they’d just seen so many people come and go in the last few years they had stopped getting to know their many neighbours. Once families would stay in the same house for generations, as had the Swifts. But as people moved away, houses turned into flats, and a new block was built along their west boundary.

My neighbours also agreed with the council verdict that the house had no history. The house doesn’t I suppose, it is rather the history of the family that lived there, and of how lives and expectations changed. Mr Swift remained nostalgic for the soft glow of the oil lamps over the bright light of the electricity he worked so hard to obtain. He grew up there and raised his own family with no bathroom, sharing the three bedroom house with others whenever necessary. He laughed a lot as he recounted tales of boyhood and fatherhood. No.24 Truro Road was a real home, with a loving family and good friends.

My partner and I used to wish we could buy No.24, and talk about what we would do if we could. We watched the final owners pull it down in 2006. The enchantment was broken, and we moved away too.

* This was the subject of a BBC Life of Grime programme. From a precarious position on top of my wall, I watched the council men try to evict the pigs and their guardians. It was one of the funniest things ever. Those travellers were the best neighbours.

The artwork and research I did on the house became my art degree show, which was exhibited at New Designers at the Business Design Centre Islington 2005 and Free Range at the Old Truman Brewery.

With many thanks to Bruce Castle Museum

“Travelling back in time to 2006, when we had an exhibition at Bruce Castle, curated by artist Annie Taylor and called No.24 Truro Road ‘A Dwelling of No Significance’Annie as our special guest writer today guides us through this touching portrait of a derelict house in Wood Green, that she lived next-door to from the 1990s into the 2000s.” Bruce Castle Museum

I’ve only ever lived in a left handed house

Aware of a deadline for an open exhibition I wanted to enter, equally aware that I hadn’t even started thinking about what to make, I opened our blue front door to welcome a friend, and as I stepped back, realised that I’d only ever lived in left handed houses.

What I mean by that is that all the houses had the front door on the right hand side, so that when you enter the house, you turn left into the rooms – otherwise you’d go splat straight into the party wall, which would hurt, and might upset the neighbours.

I’ve never been much of a mover. I don’t travel light and have way too much stuff.  Books and fabric and records and pictures and ornaments and nicknacks and just stuff! I read, sew, draw and paint, garden. I didn’t always garden, I did when I was small, helping Mum, and even having my own little patch to grow tiny radish and carrots. But then music and dancing took over and it was some years before growing things became important again. That was after I bought my flat. Planting a tree makes it even harder to move. Eventually though, we (for it was ‘we’ by then) dug up the nectarine tree, and the peonies, and an artichoke or two, and moved on.

This house we moved to, is only the sixth house I remember living in. There was a house when I was tiny, and I’ve seen photos, but I do not remember it.  I know it in terms of stories: the kitchen-hatch my Dad made, the mice my brother loved to watch careering round his bedroom floor, the neighbours my crying drove demented. 

I can’t draw that first house. I know the road name, but not the number. There were trees in the road, but the trees in the road I grew up in had spring blossom. One had both delicate white blossom and green leaves, together with heavy blousy pink blossom and plum coloured leaves.  The trees have not fared well these past few years, and the gutters no longer fill with fallen blooms. We had a green front door, and a pyracantha tree in the corner, which my Dad kept trimmed to a lollypop shape.

simple stitched outline of a house, a 1930s terrace, with a green front door.  The house is one of a series illustrating the houses I have lived in, and how they are all similar

When I finally started going Out, I stayed at friends and boyfriends, in Camden, in Kings Cross, in Haringey and somewhere in West London that involved a complicated process of hiding under a van to gain access to the house; going home to my parents for a change of more or less identical artfully ripped black clothes. My friends (and boyfriends) meant visits to Sheffield and Glasgow and Manchester. But my ‘stuff’ all stayed at my parents. My room was always there, and after a hot dinner, a warm bed, and maybe a Dynasty with Mum on a Friday evening, I’d head back off again. Sometimes I turned up and someone else had eaten the dinner and nabbed the bed, as my parents always looked out for our less fortunate friends.

Simple machine stitched drawing of a 1900s house with a bay window, illustrating the similarity of all the houses I have lived in

After approximately 8,431 days, I moved across the River, into a room with my boyfriend.  It was a big house with no shared living space, 15 miles north from my parents.  My Dad drove me there in a car full of stuff, lit a cigar and laughed a lot.  He hadn’t smoked for years. The boyfriend and I stopped talking to each other around 182 days later, I found myself another room in a different shared house, less than a mile away, and wonderful new friends. It was an unmitigated shithole, but with a pint of red wine in one hand, a big old funny cigarette in the other, and helping hands all around, I moved in. It had a big rambling hedge, that was never trimmed, and I think had a gate – or at least a gatepost, when I arrived.  It was gone by the time I moved on, about 1,187 days later.

Two simple illustrated houses, machine stitched in black thread, one with a blue front door, one yellow, both with hedges to the front garden.  Illustrating the fact that I've always lived in similar houses

My next home was just around the corner, not even a quarter of a mile from the last, with, as usual, more people most of the time than actually lived there, plus four cats and two dogs. We had the offy on one side, which was very handy. I never saw the neighbours. Probably just as well. They must have suffered. The garden was crazy-paved all over, but had a tree. The huge ground floor bathroom had French doors. The offy had a German Shepherd dog that sat in their yard and howled, generally whenever things seemed quiet enough to chance a bath on a sunny day with the doors open.

Sleep began to seem a more attractive and necessary idea, and I began to think it might be nice to have somewhere of my own, maybe a garden.  912 days later, I found my flat, two and a half miles uphill.

A simplified embroidered drawing of a house, with a red front door and a tree to the left.  illustrating the similarity of all the houses I have lived in

My brother borrowed a van from work and arrived to help me move, as by then I had rather a lot of stuff, including a wardrobe and shelves to contain it.  He said “we’d better unload the van first”, as it was pre-loaded with all stuff from my parents’ house, plus some things they thought might be useful and a small white table and chair from Granny. My parents’ house breathed a brief sigh of relief, before my parents set about filling all the now available space with yet more books and ornaments and records and things of their own.

I met my partner, The Engineer. He lived in Nobby Van, had a motorbike, tools, a couple of cassettes, but no stuff. He built a workshop on the back of the flat, and we took over the garden next door as our allotment.

4,716 days later we were moving on, 163 miles East to the seaside. Everything went into storage as our new house wasn’t entirely habitable, some might say it still isn’t. The Engineer was astounded and horrified by the sheer stuff volume: it kept appearing: cupboards disgorging their contents like Tardis. Added to which by then was his Edwardian safe, my full size kiln, and other death-defying one ton objects of a whole new level of stuffness to move. And my greenhouse – a leaving present from my last ever proper job some years before. That didn’t want to move. It had taken root along with the white peach tree and the big pink rose that bloomed all year, the magnolia and the apple trees, and the um, Japanese Knotweed.

Simple illustration in black thread, drawn on a sewing machine, of a Victorian terrace house with a blue front door.  It shows the similarity, in my mind, of all the houses I have lived in

So here we are, 4,836 days and counting, in my sixth left handed house, with a Cat That Isn’t Ours, and lots and lots and lots of stuff. One day it will all be in the right place, neat, tidy, accessible. Ha ha ha, say the Fabric Friends.

Six little houses, all in a row. Stitched by hand and machine, onto fabric from the stash. I had so much stuff I wanted to squeeze into this piece – names, and latitudes and longitudes, and dates and times, and distances. I wanted to map my infrequent moves, my travels with my stuff.  The houses weren’t having it. They’ve formed themselves into a single terrace, stuff firmly behind closed doors.

Six little left-handed houses, with their post codes. I’ve only moved one degree East, less than a degree North or South. And I’ve never lived in a right-handed house. 

stitched art illustration of six similar houses, on a background of vintage 70s yellow and pink bedlinen.

I’ve only ever lived in left-handed houses. Machine and hand embroidery and crayon, on old bedlinen.

2020 Vision

Oh how I wish I still had it!

My friends have been laughing that this is going to be a good year for opticians, and I’m guessing they are right. I’m tippitytapping this with transformed spectacles held on with welding wire arms, with gluegunned tips for behind ear comfort, fashioned lovingly by The Engineer after the arms just randomly fell of my specs, leaving me balancing my varifocals pince-nez style – which meant only a matter of time before we had specs in soup and beans on specs.

Like one of my Big Dolls, my arms are not long enough. No amount of holding at arms length is going to bring small print into focus. I’ve thought about making some longer arms, more like Big Alice’s legs, but I don’t think they’d really be much help. I can imagine them trailing along behind me down the High Street, tripping people up, and wrapping themselves around lamp posts, and being quarter of a mile behind me when I did actually want to read something. And they’d need an awfully big sort of puppet frame mechanism to function, which might be rather heavy for walking far. I suppose I could put them in my shopping trolley and just bring them out when I need them, but then, where do I put my shopping – in another trolley that I tow behind me and the arms? Actually, I’m beginning to feel quite exhausted thinking about all this, and considering I wasn’t particularly thinking about it before I started typing, I think it is best I just stop now. And make an appointment to see the optician.

However, as we are now in a New Year, and my spectacles are, for now, correctly positioned, I am busy sorting out diaries and calendars (and trying to make sure I write the same information on the same day of each). So here is a list of what is afoot (or a-fin) so far for this year in the House of Mermaids.

First up, the Profanity Embroidery Group Annual Exhibition will take place from 12th to 18th February at the Fishslab Gallery in Whitstable.

May 28th to 2nd June, the Big Dolls and I shall be joining Meg Wroe, Bev Sage and Clair Meyrick at the Pie Factory in Margate

July 10th to 16th sees the Mermaids in residence at Show Off in Harbour Street, Whitstable, alongside Alma Caira and Katrina Taylor

During the Whitstable Oyster Festival, in July, the house shall be Open for the Made in Whitstable: Arts, Craft & Vintage Trail

And quite frankly, thats enough to be getting on with. So on with it I get. Happy New Year!!!

Busy Busy Busy

Facebook has just told me this photo was 5 years ago. Big Alice, as nature didn’t intend. Strangely my first thought was about how the Terminators arrive nude. Not that Big Alice is very Terminatorish, but Big Alice wasn’t terribly happy at this point, and having difficulty managing those legs and feet. She’s still the biggest doll I’ve made…. so far.

Anyway, when I was making her, if I wasn’t busy busy busy, I was thinking “what on Earth?”. Not a question I asked at all once she was finished. And once she’d cheered up too. Not to be like those people who walk around going “Cheer Up Love It Might Never Happen” (who do deserved whatever might not happen to promptly Happen to them), but having a glowering larger than life fabric friend sprawling all over your studio like a malevolent teenager was rather unnerving.

Last week I started being busy busy busy again. And then I stopped and came up for air and thought ‘What On Earth?”. I’ve been possessed by my new sewing machine, and she’s making me do things I wouldn’t normally do. This wasn’t the plan, not one bit. All I can hope is that with time, I’ll accept that I’ve made a sort of appliqued quilty thing, and enjoyed the process, and that I’m sure some good will come of it one day….

Come and see what you think. Save me from the evil/conforming influence of Nina the Bernina, and let me get back to my dolls. Its East Kent Artists Open Houses time again, and we open for the following three weekends, 12/13th, 19/20th and 26/27th October 2019.

Stop starting: start finishing

This is my new mantra.

If you are reading this blog, you know that my working process is not always constructive. Displacement Activity is my best friend.

Exhibition deadline waves “hello”. I cut down on ‘other stuff’ to focus in the studio. This used to be precisely the point where one good friend began phoning daily to ask if I was cleaning the oven.  Cleaning the oven was the displacement last resort.

a rag doll sits on top of woodburner stove, alongside a kettle

The cleaning oven trick doesn’t work any more because we have a wood burner, a big lump of steel, and it is the Engineer who looks after it.  Its name is Dean.  Our little living room Victorian stove is called Pearl (think about it, and go bah bah bah ba ba ba baaahhhhhhhhh). Pearl doesn’t get used much nowadays. She used to be all we had to be warm and cook with, and then we bought her some lovely new coal and she overheated and buckled. Poor old girl. So then, through Freecycle, we acquired a gas cooker,  Heston Greenenthal (it was green) and boy did that need cleaning.  Heston used to get in the most mess I have ever seen a cooker get in.  And it had one of those glass lids too.  That could take ages, just to get the splatters off of that.  Now, this wasn’t meant to be a post about our cooker history, but you can see how easily Cleaning The Oven became a major displacement activity – one that could really be justified.

So, no more oven to clean. The Engineer has cut the lawn. And I am in the studio.

And – drum roll please – every morning for the last week when I have reached out to start something new, I have stopped myself.  I’ve asked myself why, what for, and am I really going to finish it (and everything else) within the time allowed, including that supposed to be for sleeping. Some things are being started, obviously, but they have been approved by the exhibition committee currently residing in my brain.

Also, the last three mornings I have remembered to move the jar of paint water before I kick it over.

Progress is really kicking in!      oops.

Neon Blue Tales at the Pie Factory Margate

 

 

Time Flies When You Are Having Fun

Hand painted and stitched textile art doll, made by Annie Taylor of Whitstable Tail
Sweet Fanny Adams, a recently completed commission

They say.

“They” say a lot of things.  For time can also fly when you are not particularly having fun – as in Good Lord we are already in February and I have only just actually had some much needed fun. Nor have I engaged in any worthwhile displacement activity.  I wonder what ‘they’ would have to say about that!

So my lack of updating this blog is not due to conscious displacement activity – it is due to a month or more of lurgies various, and life the universe and everything (but not displacement) taking precedence.

Having caught up – almost – on orders, and dug out the sketchbook from a teetering pile of stuff, it is time to take stock of what indeed I ought to be displacing from.

The Profanity Embroidery Group exhibition opens in the wonderful Walpole Bay Hotel on 7th March as part of POW!Thanet‘s IWD celebrations.  “The Private Life of Mrs Winchester” is an installation based on our fictional character and inspiration, and we have all been stitching like mad to make her belongings and treasures. When the exhibition closes at the Walpole, it transfers at the Fishslab Gallery in Whitstable from 14th to 18th March.

The Big Dolls (and hopefully some new friends) will be toddling off to Margate in May to celebrate the Spring Bank Holiday in style at the Pie Factory from 3rd to 8th May.  Neon Blue Tales is an eclectic mix of installation, paintings, prints and words.  Four creative women – Bev Sage, Clair Meyrick, Meg Wroe and myself shall be transforming this beautiful space.

And then in July, it is the Whitstable Oyster Festival, and once again I shall be Opening the House for the MiW Arts Craft & Vintage Trail. That is, trusting we have a floor and all that, which we don’t at the moment, but that is another story.

This is all looking like rather a lot of work, and I really think the best thing to do now is go back to bed and think about it all. Quietly. With the Cat That Isnt Ours and a large mug of tea. Looks like displacement needs to start in earnest.

I could in fact make a doll named Earnest to top the displacement activity list.

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Avocado’s Fork and Bind-Weed’s Sting

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“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Avocado’s fork and bind-weed’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble”
Shakespeare’s Song of the Witches bubbled unbidden into my brain whilst stirring this dark tale, albeit slightly altered.  This stitched story belongs to the Fairy GM, that Big Bad Fairy that still is not finished, and will form the binds that tie the poor little Lost Children of the F1 Hybrid That Never Grow True.
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As a gardener, you might be forgiven for thinking I spend quite enough time fighting Bindweed, without making more, but I am as ever, contrary.  This year has not been such a good one for Calystegia sepium. Its smothering progress has been slower than usual, as has just about everything that I actually did want to grow. The Fairy GM meanwhile has been drumming her fingers impatiently, waiting for attention.  I was going to say she had been tapping her toes impatiently, but she doesn’t have any yet.  To be honest, they don’t really feature in her overall design. Neither do feet. Or legs. Only Bindweed.
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The brew is made from avocado pits, and produces a wonderful pink dye. I foresee a week of mostly eating avocados, whilst I continue with the Fairy GM’s “charm of powerful trouble”.
East Kent Artists Open Houses continue 26th and 27th October, and 3rd and 4th November.
Come and visit, or the Lost Children of the F1 Hybrids will visit you.

A good place

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Today I dug out my  my original Alice drawings – along with some other Fairy Tale friends. I’m putting them back up for Open House.

I love these drawings as, for me, they represent me finding my feet. Which is funny, because the reason I did them was because I had my leg in plaster after an operation on my right ankle, and for six weeks could only shuffle about on my bottom (can’t do crutches) so sat on the floor like a child with marker pens and lining paper and my granny’s squeezed out old watercolours, and just drew, and giggled. I didn’t have to be anywhere cos I couldn’t get anywhere, and despite mobility problems (which I knew were only temporary and then I’d be better than I had been before) I felt truly free. A good place.

Come and see the drawings at my Open House, which starts this weekend, Saturday 20th October, 11am to 5pm.  House No.27 on the Whitstable Trail

 

A little perspective (or a big one for that matter)

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Big Alice has me thinking about Time and Scale again, for Facebook tells me it is her Fourth Birthday.   If you had asked me, as I am sure you always wanted to, when I began to make VERY large dolls, I’d have been hard  pushed to tell you, as it feels as though Big Alice has been with me forever.  You might have received a rambling reply about making dolls and why I do. Or I might have talked about the dolls in general, gone off at a tangent and forgotten the point. Most likely the latter.

I had been making very small dolls for a while. Small Alice dolls to shove in bottles and boxes and belljars;  small fairies to keep in little birdcages; and small mermaids to catch straight into jamjars. All of them constricted, caught, and held.

Obviously there was bound to be a backlash sooner or later, I just didn’t see it coming.

When I make the dolls, I draw a sketch, on the back of an envelope, on a  napkin, on whatever is to hand when the doll knocks on the front of my brain and says ‘let me out’, which is annoyingly most often not my sketchbook. Then I draw out the sketch onto big old computer paper.  The sketch doesn’t really change – my dolls are not exactly 2D but neither are they 3D. They are flat, only they aren’t. They are one sided, but the backs are quite important.  I woke with Eureka moment a few days ago: of course! they are Two And A Half D.  On checking with Google, 2.5D does already exist. Of course it would be a ‘thing’, where (and I may not have this entirely right) 2D graphical projections are used to create the appearance of being three dimensional, when in fact, they are not.  What I really like is that it is also called pseudo-3D.

Anyway.  So, I draw out my sketch onto big paper. As we all know, when you make something in fabric, you stitch it up and stuff it, and it is smaller than your drawing.  With this in mind, I set out to draw the pattern quite large. Then I stand back and look at it, check the proportions – sometimes I stand on a stool and take a photo. At this point you might be forgiven for thinking I would realise that it is going to be a biggie.  I work on the studio floor, which as I get busier and busier, becomes a smaller and smaller place, so my sense of proportion gets muddied.  The drawing is not that big, because the working area is small.  Not because the drawing is big. Still with me?

Big Alice was always intended to be quite big.  She was going in The View, which is a wonderful Whitstable gallery, and is very small.  So she needed to be big so that she was uncomfortable in the space.  By the way, my dolls are all very pleased that I have got over this need to cram them claustrophobically into something. Apart from the original Alice doll, who lives in the belljar, which does upset people.

Big Alice ended up being sixteen feet tall.  She lives in our hallway, and looks forward to each Open House.  She has just asked if I can give her flamingo his legs now, and can she have another Cheshire Cat for her Birthday*.

Four years ago, I made Big Alice.  Can’t imagine life without her really.  She is big, but she doesn’t get in the way, and when she’s off making an exhibition of herself I really miss her.  Sometimes people ask if she is for sale.  Can you imagine that?

*Oops – didn’t realise she knew I’d sold the first one.  Can’t pull the wool over Alice’s eyes.  They are just too big, and I can’t reach.

East Kent Artists’ Open Houses begin on October 20th for three weekends.

alice in teh view